Washington Square


Henry James

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Washington Square: Chapter 23 Summary & Analysis

Dr. Sloper’s contemptuous dismissal of Catherine’s words cause, for the first time, “a spark of anger in her grief.” She begins to feel that she is “absolved from penance,” and she decides that she will meet with Morris despite her father’s feelings. When she and Morris take a walk, Catherine expresses no interest in seeing the sights of Europe, and Morris thinks, “Gracious heaven, what a dull woman!” Catherine is concerned that there is something deceptive about her going along with the trip, but Morris tells her that perhaps Dr. Sloper will be softened by their time abroad together.
Catherine is stung by her father’s rejection of her independent thought, and, accordingly, she is less restrained by a sense of guilt and begins to take bolder steps toward independence. When she shows little interest in Europe, Catherine means that Morris doesn’t need to worry that she will forget him while she’s abroad. Instead of being grateful to Catherine for her commitment to him, though, it seems Morris can’t believe that Catherine would pass up a free trip to Europe, yet again suggesting that Morris is interested in riding on the coattails of other people’s wealth. He also privately degrades her just like her father does, deeming her a “dull woman,” which casts further doubt on if he truly loves her.
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The Slopers end up spending an entire year in Europe. In their absence, Aunt Penniman frequently hosts Morris at Washington Square. He enjoys a favorite chair by the fireside and smokes Dr. Sloper’s good cigars; “as a young man of luxurious tastes and scanty resources, he found the house a perfect castle of indolence.” Aunt Almond disapproves of her sister’s friendship with Morris, and Aunt Penniman makes no effort to befriend Mrs. Montgomery. She becomes increasingly convinced that Morris ought to enjoy Catherine’s inheritance.
Aunt Penniman only becomes more taken with Morris and more approving of his entitlement to the Sloper fortune. She takes the liberty of inviting him often into the Slopers’ house in the doctor’s absence, and Morris has no qualms about taking full advantage of the comforts this affords him. Meanwhile, Aunt Penniman isolates herself from anyone who might second-guess her views of the situation; she prefers to stay caught up in the fantasy of her choosing.
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